Mon, 25 Mar 2019

President Vladimir Putin is scheduled to deliver his annual address to parliament on February 20 as polls show trust in the Russian leader is at near record lows as average Russians struggle to make ends meet.

The president's annual state-of-the-nation address to the Federal Assembly, Russia's two-chamber parliament, is scheduled to start at noon local time (1000 CET) and is to be televised live on state channels.

Putin has dominated politics in Russia for two decades, serving as president or prime minister since 1999. In 2018, Putin, 66, was reelected to another six-year term. Critics say he has maintained his near monopoly on power by crushing the political opposition and stifling dissent.

It will be the 15th time Putin has given the address, before an audience that traditionally includes both houses of the legislature, or Federal Assembly; government ministers; judges from the Constitutional and Supreme courts; leading regional officials; and other members of the political elite.

This years speech comes with a recent poll showing public trust in Putin has fallen to its lowest level in 13 years amid continuing economic woes. More than one in five Russians now lives in poverty, according to recent research by an institute with links to the Kremlin. Nationwide protests broke out in 2018 over the government's plans to raise the age of eligibility for pensions.

Russia still faces international sanctions for its annexation of Ukraines Crimean Peninsula in March 2014, as well as its support for separatists in eastern Ukraine, where more than 10,300 have died since the conflict erupted in April 2014.

The address is one of three regularly scheduled national appearances Putin makes each year -- the others being a lavish question-and-answer session with the public and a stage-managed annual press conference.

During his address last year, Putin focused on what he boasted were breakthroughs in the nations military arsenal. Putin unveiled six nuclear-capable weapons and said they were unparalleled in the world.

'I want to tell all those who have fueled the arms race over the last 15 years, sought to win unilateral advantages over Russia, introduced unlawful sanctions aimed at containing our country's development: Everything that you wanted to impede with your policies has already happened,' he said last year. 'You have failed to contain Russia.'

In the past, the state-of-the-nation speech has traditionally been given in December but in 2018 it was postponed until March. Critics charged the move last year violated election laws that gave Putin free campaign advertising ahead of the countrys presidential election.

Government sources told independent Dozhd TV that foreign policy issues will take a backseat in Putins speech this year.

Instead, the sources said Putin will try to offer solutions to the pressing problems Russians face, including a trash problem as the nation runs out of landfill.

Protests against solid-waste disposal plans swept Russia in 2018, particularly after March 21 when dozens of children in the Moscow Oblast town of Volokolamsk were hospitalized with suspected poisoning caused by noxious gases emanating from a local landfill. Several thousand people turned out for a demonstration there in early April.

As the trash mounts so does the anxiety among Russians about the state of the economy, emerging from a recession largely caused by Western sanctions and low oil prices.

Russias state statistics agency recently announced GDP growth of 2.3 percent in 2018. That was much higher than most forecasts, sparking questions over whether Rosstat may have tampered with the data.

Whether the numbers are true or not, more and more Russians are struggling to get by.

In a November 21 report, the Kremlin-linked Russian Presidential Academy of the National Economy and Public Administration said 22 percent of Russians fall into the 'poverty zone,' meaning they are unable to buy anything beyond basic staples needed for subsistence.

With poverty up, Putins numbers are down.

A poll by the Public Opinion Research Center, or VTsIOM, released on January 17 found that trust in Putin had fallen to 33.4 percent, its lowest level since 2006.

With reporting by Dozhd, TASS, Interfax, and Meduza RFE/RL

RFE/RL journalists report the news in 25 countries where a free press is banned by the government or not fully established.

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Copyright (c) 2018. RFE/RL, Inc. Republished with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave NW, Ste 400, Washington DC 20036

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